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I get asked to help clients with their websites all the time.

Websites, because for some SMEs, that’s the sum total of the marketing they do. Or it’s the bit of their business the market notice. Often it’s heralded to be the answer to their business issues. So the conversation tends to start here.

They want to scale up, to start exporting. After all, a slick website is the perfect lead-generator for a business needing to engage international prospects.

There may be an investment in ongoing Google ads …. but bounce rates are too high … from their poorly constructed website, with its text-heavy, much ignored messages.

A state-of-the-art-service is being marketed, but unfortunately the owner has chosen to develop the website for free. And now the site is not delivering as the business has grown.

They used have a strong foothold in the marketplace, but now the market has become more competitive. Again, the website brings market attention to the fact that they’ve lost touch.

Some business owners articulate the need for a customer or marketing plan, others a refinement of their sales pitch.

Commonly, clients speak of the need for a ‘rebrand’. Branding is a much bandied-about term, I speak about it more here. Some mean visual brand; to be perceived online and on publications as a dynamic, professional and ‘serious contender’ in the market. Other times it’s meant as a more fundamental rebrand, a rethink or re-launch perhaps of their business.

Some cite the very common sentiment of ‘feeling lost’ in the noise of their of day-to-day business. The recession is slowly lifting …. trust and positivity are re-emerging. Businesses want to be poised and ready for the impending upswing. But with it often comes decision-paralysis. This is understandable, now everyone has to be a marketer.  With the perceived low costs of digital media, the potential for a dazzling world stage, the well-intentioned advice from family, friends, not to mention online (aware of the irony!). So it’s no wonder businesses are confused.

Many just don’t have the time, the resources or the space to think about where to start.

For me marketing can never fix poor planning, it’s meant to be a critical part of the business planning process. As Bernadette Jiwa puts it

‘Businesses spend a lot of time trying to be seen and heard, rising above the noise …. by creating more noise. Good marketing is often invisible’.

The Iceberg Effect

I see how easy it is for attention to focus on better communications when addressing business issues. But often what they see in competitive businesses is only the tip of the iceberg, the bit above the surface that everyone sees. ‘How can we fix this business issue, surely better communications is the answer’. Not always. This view can be blinkered and could lead the business down the track of keeping everything else as is, same target market, same product offerings but fresh new communications.

 

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Invariably with most clients, I backtrack into Strategy. It remains one of the most overused words in business. For me the less jargon the better.

‘Strategy for me boils down to choices.’

The choices determine the path. Some roads lead somewhere interesting, lucrative, sustainable. Others are short and sweet, leading nowhere.

The choices a business makes about who it will serve and, crucially, who they will not serve. What it will offer? How their way of doing business is unique to them? How it is sustainable? How is it organised to feed off the passions, resources and skillsets of those within the business? Some business owners who are struggling are driving autopilot, to a place they’ve been many times before. It’s so hard to drive the car and take in the landscape, to see the big picture about what is going on. The concentration can sometimes be too linear, riddled with assumptions.  In start-ups, it’s nearly the flipside, the head is awhirl with tons of new stimulus. The non-driver or mentor can be really useful in helping navigate the woods and trees.

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The thing is, businesses who excel in communications spend much longer at the bit everyone doesn’t see, the market intelligence or curiosity, the tracking and iterating, the planning and improving, the bit below the surface.

It doesn’t mean the launch has to be held up. I welcome the move in recent years from overly researching and stalling before launching, to refining and iterating quickly when launched. This lean approach to planning and minimal viable products is refreshing and dynamic and has worked well in the tech start-up scene. But it doesn’t mean you should launch without a clear plan. It just means the attention on this area should be maintained once launched. The curiosity and determination to realise the true potential of the business should be pursued to the nth.

That part, whilst not always expensive, takes time, patience, determined focus …. and it has to be said some amount of discomfort. This ability to live with uncertainty and business vulnerability is a major game-changer for me.  Maybe the business has to change more than the owner thought or maybe there are un-admitted weaknesses in the business skills.  Basically more challenging conversations are needed to get to the solutions than first anticipated.

The ability for a business to start in the right place, to address the challenges fundamentally can be the difference. The business offering that’s based on genuine, up-to-date market insights, sustains the business. It then powers the communications, the revenues, the motivations of personnel. Those businesses naturally create great marketing, create communications and naturally attract business to them. The need to push the message out, verses draw attention in changes there and then.

‘Good products breathe life and clarity into their communication’

So in summary, I guess I’m saying that a web developer, whilst at times critical, won’t solve business woes. Nor can focusing on the ‘shiny distraction’ of social media replace the hard strategic choices. Sometimes they only shine a light on business indecision or lack of planning. Don’t get me wrong, the ad, the website, the video, the social messaging … they are all really effective tools at the right point in time. To a clearly sculpted strategic purpose. Trouble is, most businesses want to jump to communications too soon. The foundations of good communications are clear choices. Those clear choices are based on what a business has observed about a market, what they are passionate about, what they have said ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to.

The duck

duckJust as the duck  furiously paddles underwater and appears calm and effortless in our view, so in business the hard work is done out of public scrutiny.

For messages to be simple and powerful, for communications to cut through in an overstimulated market, more thought and some market interrogation needs to happen first.

Start by moving away from the noise, by removing yourself from the day-to-day. Then maybe ask for honest, impartial appraisal.

Seek expert advice where there’s a gap.

@siodhna

 

I offer Clarity Workshops to clients who are confused about where to start in terms of communications or strategic planning. Contact me here for more information.  

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